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We're the Resilient Generation, Not the COVID Generation

Olivia Shekou, 12

What is resilience? "Resilience" is used in physics to describe the way materials revert back to their original shape after undergoing some kind of shock or impact. In medicine, “resilience” describes a patient’s ability to recover after a traumatic event, such as surgery or accidents. “Resilience” was used by my younger brother who came back from Kindergarten one day, now five years ago, saying that his teacher told him “resilience means to bounce back.” That sure struck a chord with him. During our current pandemic, I think we can agree that “resilience” describes our ability to cope with stress, loss, and anxiety in the face of a deadly virus that has swept across the globe.

Generation Z (those born between 1995-2009), like myself, and Generation Alpha (those born between 2010-2024), like my younger brother, have quickly learned to wear masks, socially distance, frequently wash our hands, elbow bump rather than hug, and drill test swabs high up in our noses in an effort to do our part. We all waited forever for the vaccine and were quick to line up for it so we could see our grandparents again be social citizens. Our resilience comes from just this—our excitement to return to our schools and communities. It comes from our desire for normalcy, especially coming off the heels of a long depressing year of virtual learning and what felt like a “caged” interaction with our friends who we needed more than ever. Many of us had a serious case of cabin fever, and too many of us were grieving the loss of a family member or friend whose funerals we couldn’t even attend. We’ve been through the unimaginable, all the while watching our own parents figure out how to keep their jobs, care for their own aging and very much vulnerable parents, and guide us in times they’ve never experienced or imagined before. They had no manual or experience of their own to draw from. What we’ve been through has felt like cruel and unusual sci-fi torture.

I’ve thought long and hard about the countless immigrant children who move to new unfamiliar countries with no manual of their own, and only their own desire for a better life that fuels their resilience. According to a 2016 UNICEF report, one in eight migrants worldwide are children and these numbers are especially high within refugee populations. Sadly, these immigrant children experience trauma from culture shock, language barriers, racism and, oftentimes, bullying, and yet a large percentage of them recover from the trauma, integrate and thrive. I believe their resilience resides in their motivation for a better life. One such example is a character in the novel Dragonwings, by Lawrence Yip, which I read while stuck at home for my sixth grade year during the pandemic. The character, Moon Shadow Lee, soon became my hero and someone I drew upon to help me through the many ups and downs of our pandemic.

Moon Shadow Lee, the 8-year old immigrant narrator and protagonist in Dragonwings, moved from his native country, China, to a new world, the U.S., only to relocate yet again in the aftermath of a natural disaster, all the while confronting racism and violence. At age eight, he traveled alone from China to San Francisco during the 1903 Gold Rush and learned to assimilate in a new environment with many obstacles and unimaginable hurdles. On his first night in San Francisco, Moon Shadow reunites with his father and other family members who run the “Company,” a laundromat service in Chinatown. He receives a rude awakening when some evil Americans—"demons"— shatter their laundromat window with bricks. Soon after, Moon Shadow is unexpectedly beaten by his very own cousin, Black Dog, who turns out to be a corrupt and vile family member. In response to this incident and in search of a safer place to live, Moon Shadow and his father, Windrider, pick up again and relocate to live with the Whitlaw’s outside of Chinatown. Not long after this move, an earthquake devastates San Francisco, uprooting them yet again to a barn in Oakland, a move in which they are rudely awakened again by Black Dog who surreptitiously seeks them out and steals their savings. As a result, they have no way of paying rent on their farm, and through this struggle, Moon Shadow develops a deep level of resilience. Despite this unexpected setback, Moon Shadow and his father manage to pay their rent and go on to achieve their ultimate goal of flying their glider, Dragonwings, a symbol of their freedom and aspirations. Boy did he teach me a number on resilience. Let Moon Shadow’s story be an inspiration to us all.

American students and children everywhere, we too are resilient in the face of adversity. We have proved that we are not the COVID Generation, but the Resilient Generation. We too have our kites and gliders to fly, our hopes and ambitions to achieve. Resilience is a shared but unique experience to each of us. What if resilience were a color? If we received exactly what we needed right now in the form of a drop of light in our hearts, what color would it be?

Dragonwings by Laurence Yep. Harper Collins, 2001. Buy the book here and support Stone Soup in the process!

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